Youth sports return, but the COVID-19 game has its own key rules
As a mother of four, including a basketball-playing incoming high school freshman, Candace Klemm understands the concerns parents have about letting their children return to sports during a pandemic.
Phase 4 of the state's COVID-19 response has arrived, but it doesn't mean it's a foregone conclusion youth sports are completely back in Illinois.
"I had one parent that was like, 'I'm not going to play until there's a vaccine (for the coronavirus),'" said Klemm, director of girls basketball for Kessel Heat AAU in Lake County and mom to Izzy Robinson Klemm, who will be a freshman at Warren Township High School in Gurnee.
"I have a 3-year-old," Klemm said. "I was afraid that if I go out, what if I bring something back to my home, not just the team?"
Before Phase 4, youth sports leagues were forced to play tournaments out of state if they wanted competition. Each sport has certain social-distancing guidelines in place, and they vary from state to state and tournament to tournament.
"Restore Illinois provides good guidelines, and we're following those as we start to play games," said Brad Niedermaier, who is president of Glenview Youth Baseball, a coach and father of kids ages 12, 11 and 6 in the program. "The parents have been asking a lot of very good questions. We just spent a lot of time doing Zoom calls with all of the coaches. We have 87 teams, so we had hundreds of coaches that we had to train."
For example, Phase 4 Stay Safe guidelines for ballplayers include no handshakes or high-fives and no spitting, sunflower seeds or gum. For spectators, the area behind home plate extending to first base and third base will be closed.
Spectators also should wear masks when entering and exiting. The home-plate umpire will stand in the infield behind the pitcher. Face coverings must be worn when social-distancing is not possible. Players will have to wear their masks to the field.
"As a coach, I don't have a problem with the kids," Niedermaier said. "Basically, we tell them, 'Put your bag here, put your bag 6 feet away (from your teammate's bag), and this is your home.' You can tell kids that the whole day, and they're pretty good at listening."
Bill Kugelberg, travel softball coach for 18U Naperville Diamonds, said every tournament has nuances as to what you can and can't do. His team played in Iowa and Ohio the last two weeks, but it's scheduled to play locally in July.
Despite concerns about contracting the virus, Kugelberg said his players want to play, and their parents are onboard. Of the 11 girls on the roster, seven -- including his daughter Mirabella, who pitched for St. Francis High -- just graduated from high school. Only one is playing in college.
"They lost their high school season, they lost their prom, and they lost their graduation," he said. "March 13 or 14 they all went to school for the last day and didn't know. They just left.
"I've always said, 'I'm going to give you the opportunity to get on the field within the (state) guidelines we need to be within, and if the parents are OK with it, we're going to do it.' Every parent has said, 'You tell us where to be, and we'll be there.'"
A basketball tournament in Waukegan last weekend serves as a reminder people need to continue to obey social distancing. A person who attended the event tested positive for COVID-19.
"These (social-distancing) rules are pretty hard core," Klemm said. "But that's what we got to do to play. People are scared that the (COVID-19) numbers are going to go back up. But, I mean, we're playing."